Steamboat Springs Of the handful of incorporated municipalities in Routt County, Yampa is the one that feels most like it is frozen in time. And Crossan’s M&A Market is emblematic of the town’s link to pioneer days in the upper Yampa Valley.
Yampa historian Rita Herold, whose family traces its roots in Yampa to the 19th century, used the historic Crossan’s M&A Market building Friday as a vehicle to describe the history of Yampa to a lunchtime audience at Tread of Pioneers Museum.
“In 1902, there wasn’t much to Yampa,” Herold observed. “The church didn’t have its steeple on yet. But in 1903, 40 new buildings went up in one year.”
The construction boom could be traced to the anticipated arrival of the Moffat Line, the first railroad to arrive in Northwest Colorado.
Two brothers, Sam and Ed Bell, who had a reputation for strong-arming union leaders on behalf of mine owners in Cripple Creek, took part in the 1903 development rush, building a general merchandise store in Yampa’s L-shaped commercial district.
“They began construction in March 1903 and by June it was fully stocked and open for business,” Herold said. “Oh! Maybe in 1903 they didn’t have to wait for the Planning Commission?”
The Bell brothers sold the store in 1905 to Buck & Son, and just as fast as they built the first general merchandise store in Yampa, they attempted to take advantage of the new owners by building a new, larger store right next door, Herold said.
Buck & Son morphed into Buck and Moore after a year, but it was George Canant, who purchased the store in 1910, who finally brought some stability to the operation. He dubbed the store Canant’s on the Corner and competed with the Bell brothers by touting his selection of fresh produce. He remained at the helm of the store until 1930.
Because it wasn’t entirely proper for young ladies and respectable gentlemen to hang out in the local saloon, Herold said, the general merchandise store became an important social hub.
"Cowboys, sheepherders, preachers, lawyers, housewives and school teachers all gathered at the store,” Herold said. “It was also a place where a cowboy could find a young woman to take on a date the next day.”
Bob and Florence Crossan purchased an interest in the store with Howard and Lila Allen in 1936. Bob and Lila were brother and sister and grew up in the Toponas area.
The humble turnip became a form of currency at Crossan’s in the 1940s.
“Jack Terhune grew more parsnip than he heeded and he asked Howard Allen, ‘How much would you give me for parsnips?’” Herold told her audience at Friday's Brown Bag Lunch series discussion at the museum in downtown Steamboat.
The two men agreed on a wholesale price of 7 cents a pound. A customer came in while Terhune was still watching Allen stock his turnips on the shelves of the store.
“How much are you charging for turnips?” the man asked.
"I want 15 cents a pound,” came the reply, much to Terhune’s chagrin.
“I could understand doubling the price, but what’s that extra penny for?” was Terhune’s reply, according to Herold.
The store shut down for good in 1964 after Bob and Florence Crossan retired and their son, George, showed no interest in carrying on. It was sold to Joe Montgomery, who had a store of his own just down the street, and he preserved the Crossan building, but used it only for storage.
Since the mid-1960s the exterior of the Crossan’s building has deteriorated, but the interior, complete with historic advertising posters and artifacts from the 1950s and early 1960s, remains largely like it was when it closed for business.
The town of Yampa purchased the historic building in 2006 with the goal of raising money to stabilize it. It was placed on the Routt County Register of Historic Places in 2008. A local committee, Friends of Crossan’s M&A Market, is about halfway to raising $62,000 in matching funds needed to land a $200,000 grant from the State Historic Fund. It would help to refurbish the building that was named to the list of Colorado’s Most Endangered Places by Colorado Preservation Inc. in 2012.
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To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com